Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clearing The Air About Ventilation

As Winter rolls in, homeowners change a lot of their habits. Unfortunately, a lot of our wintertime habits
affect our home’s air quality – and not in a good way.

Proper ventilation is key for optimal
indoor air quality, comfort and

To save on energy costs, you probably keep your doors and windows closed in the winter. Instead of our summertime screen doors and windows, air is trapped in our houses, recycled over and over.  

You may also lower your thermostat to save money, and run space heaters in select rooms/areas to then improve spot-specific comfort.  A logical approach on the surface, but with the risk of unintentional, negative consequences (and likely won't result in the savings you think).

For ambiance or for heating, you may use a wood-burning fireplace. As you can imagine, the smoke and pollutants in the wood are now released into your home – wrecking havoc on your air quality.

Even something as innocent as a humidifier can be adding to the problem. Adding too much moisture to your home’s air can make linens, draperies, or even your clothes attractive to mold.

You home's ventilation mechanisms are probably not something you think about often, but they are so fundamentally important to the overall efficiency, comfort and air quality of your home.  Proper ventilation is always important, but even more so in the winter given how closed up most homes become, for an extended period of time.  Without the proper ventilation, these seemingly innocent wintertime habits can cause your home and family harm. The fact is, the average American now spends 90% of their time breathing indoor air, which is 2 to 5 more times polluted than outdoor air.

Ventilation is one of the more confusing subjects for homeowners, so we've produced a brief, educational video to provide you with insights on ventilation basics.  Check it out on the Pro Energy Consultants YouTube Channel.

 Learn what it takes to make your home a safe and healthy environment for you and your family!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Winter Will Be 18% Colder, More Costly

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has released it's short term Energy & Winter Fuels Outlook, and be prepared....this winter is forecasted to be 18% colder.  If temperatures stay as forecasted, the average homeowner should anticipate an increase of anywhere from 5-19% in their heating bills over last year (depending on heating type).

This will really give you the chills though:  If temperatures are 10 degrees colder than the forecast, that range jumps to an 11-32% anticipated increase.

NOW is the time to prep your home for winter - not when you're cold in your house with a high energy bill in your hand!

Let's talk about that thermostat for a minute first.  All the conventional information will tell you to drop your house temperature to 68 degrees or less to save money, varying the settings between when you are away, when you are home, and when you're sleeping..  And sure, if you do that, you will lower your energy bills.

However, I can tell you that our thermostat never goes that low - we're simply not comfortable at those temperatures, especially our 22 month old.  In my view, you need to save money but you also need to enjoy your living space.  Wearing 3 layers and being wrapped in blankets for 3+ months just isn't our idea of enjoyment.

(What I really get a kick out of is hearing that some of my friends set their thermostats low....and then run space heaters everywhere!)

Here's the big message - it doesn't have to be an either/or scenario.  You CAN lower your energy bills AND be more comfortable in your home - IF you know what to fix, and where.

Common areas of home air leaks.
It makes far more sense to spend about $400 (depending on the size of your home) to know exactly what energy-saving and comfort-maximizing improvements you should invest in - instead of sending extra money to the utility company.  At the same time, you'll also boost the resale value of your home (per a recent report, wanting a more Eco-conscious home is now one of the top 5 reasons people decide to move).

Most people are pleasantly surprised to learn that the improvements they really need are not that expensive.  For example, the national average for air sealing is only about $1,400.  Now that's not necessarily peanuts, but it's certainly cheaper than buying new windows or a HVAC system, or continuing to pay high energy bills year after year.

Like it or not, winter is on it's way  - and an ounce of prevention can save you $$$$ this heating season!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Raising Our Kids' Energy Awareness

Growing up, our energy education consisted of my parents asking if we lived in a barn every time we left the door open, and getting yelled at when we stared in the fridge too long.  There wasn't a purposeful effort to educate us about energy or conservation, but just a lot of common sense practices like turning the lights off when we leave a room.  Times are different.  Energy is a bigger, and growing, strain on the family budget and we're more aware of how our individual activities impact the environment.  The next generation of kids will grow up being energy-conscious out of both necessity and responsibility.

There are a couple basic reasons why energy is a bigger issue for families today:

Homes are bigger.  We were a family of 5 growing up in a 1,500 square foot house with one bathroom (gasp!).  Today, we all want bigger homes which require more energy to heat, cool and maintain.

Construction practices are different.  Cathedral ceilings and recessed lighting for example are very on-trend, but perform poorly from an energy efficiency standpoint.  Also, certain time periods (notably the 70s and 80s) were known to use incredibly inefficient practices and are prone to air leakage and thermal barrier issues.

We have more stuff.  We had one TV in the house when I was a kid, no cell phones, no DVD were we deprived!  In contrast, I'm friends with a couple that has two kids and 9 TVs in their house (plus all the other gadgetry).  All this stuff takes power and costs money.

We spend more time indoors.  So not only do we have more stuff in the house, but we spend more time indoors using all this stuff.

FEMP for Energy Action Month
The point is not to glorify the 'good old days' - no point in that.  But, we do need to think about today, and the future, because our world has changed.  One of our parental responsibilities now is to blend the common sense we learned from our parents with the new information we now have, to shape kids that are even smarter than us.  October is National Energy Action Month, and a perfect time to introduce energy awareness, in all its forms, to your family.  Check out our 'Be An Energy Star' family activity as a way to get started while having some fun.

Posted by: Kylene Golubski
Pro Energy Consultants

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

RED Light: Closing Your Vents to Save Energy

As part of Energy Action Month, we're sharing specific household DOs and DONT's to enhance your family's budget, health and Eco-consciousness.  We're using the classic childhood game, 'Red Light, Green Light' to make the information super easy to understand (we know how difficult and overwhelming all the information about lowering energy bills, energy audits, etc. can be!)


Pro Energy Consultants has performed thousands of energy audits across the country, so we've seen some pretty interesting things people do in their well meaning attempts to save energy. Let's just say that duct tape is not a suitable material for any energy-related home improvement!

A very common activity that seems to make sense on the surface is closing the vents in low-use areas or rooms of the home. People think, ''this will prevent wasted money on heating/cooling this space.' But this logic is wrong, and can wind up costing you.

First, when you close a vent, the air that was directed to it gets stuck. With nowhere to go, it applies backpressure on the unit's fan, causing it to work harder (burn more energy) to do its job. Overtime, this will also cause the fan to wear out quicker.

Second, your HVAC unit will produce the same amount of conditioned air, regardless of how many vents are open/closed (so you are not reducing energy consumption). When you close a vent, you are simply sending more conditioned air into spaces that don't need it - often times, this can even make other rooms UNcomfortable.

Lastly, restricting the flow of conditioned air increases the probability that it will be pushed out through the leaks in your duct work, decreasing your energy efficiency.

Bottom line, closing your vents gets the RED LIGHT this month, and can do way more harm than good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Top 3 Ways Homeowners Waste Money on Energy Saving Home Improvements

Which Energy Improvements Waste Your Money?
In honor of Energy Action Month, Pro Energy is running a campaign aimed to help families decide which energy saving actions are more important than others. In other words, which energy improvements or actions get the GREEN light, and which get a red light?? Today, let's take a look at the most typical improvements that earned our RED LIGHT; families should at least do some research before thinking these improvements will mean big savings.

  • Windows. Don't get me wrong, old windows can certainly be energy-draining culprits. HOWEVER, we typically see homeowners blaming windows for symptoms (like drafts or high energy bills) they actually aren't related to. Even worse, purchasing new windows for a home can cost thousands of dollars.
  • New AC or Furnace Equipment. So, you turn on your AC in the summer, and you feel like it never actually cools down your house. Or maybe just not the second floor of your home. That means you probably need a new, bigger air conditioner, right? WRONG! Again, self-diagnosing what seems to be a logical problem can mean continued high energy bills, comfort problems, and wasted money! And unfortunately, your HVAC dealer may not present the most unbiased opinion.
  • Energy-Saving Appliances. Again, we're not trying to say that a new EnergyStar refrigerator isn't more efficient than your 30-year-old pistachio-colored "icebox." Homeowners think investing in new large appliances will be the silver bullet and automatically drop their utility bills. Unfortunately, the savings isn't always as much as they'd hoped. Make sure you do your research on what features actually use less energy than others; just because it has an EnergyStar rating doesn't necessarily mean it is the most energy-efficient (Here's a good fridge article from Consumer Reports).

One more time, we are NOT saying that these aren't energy-saving improvements. We just want you to have the right expectations! We frequently see homeowners who have spent a lot of money in hopes of upgrading their homes, being more comfortable in extreme temperatures, and becoming more energy efficient, but their problems weren't solved after their investment. Just make sure you do your research before assuming the cause of your comfort or energy problems. 

So what are the improvements you should be focusing on? Stay tuned for our next blog post! If you can't wait until next week, you can discuss questions related to this blog post or any other energy-related questions with your local independent energy consultant.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Airborne Chemical Exposure from Household Products

Written by guest blogger Martin Spartz, Ph.D., Prism Analytical Technologies, Inc.

Consumer-type personal care and household products (e.g., hand sanitizers, reed diffusers, nail polish remover, gasoline, etc.) contain chemicals that off-gas into the air, and are called VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).  The total level of all VOCs in the natural outdoor air is about 12 to 25 parts per billion (ppb).  Home air routinely contains total VOCs of between 125 and 750 ppb, which is 10 to 60 times that in outdoor air. In some homes, VOCs have been measured at more than 12,500 ppb!  Approximately 50% of homes tested for airborne VOCs had a significant percentage of the total VOCs come from personal care products and gasoline.  What this means is that we cause a vast majority of the air pollution in our own home!
 To determine the potential effect of VOCs on your health is to first understand how the human body interacts with these chemicals.  In a recent study, four people were placed in a room and exposed to controlled airborne levels of ethanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and toluene for a short period of time.  Ethanol, acetone, and isopropyl alcohol are common VOCs found in personal care products. Toluene is a VOC found in gasoline, paints, and adhesives. All of these chemicals are found in most homes at elevated levels.  Each person was then asked to provide a deep lung breath sample (just like a breath alcohol test) so that a determination could be made of the percentage of each VOC retained in the body – either by entering the bloodstream or remaining in the lung. Following are the results:
·         Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol, sanitary wipes) – 84% to 91% was retained
·         Acetone (nail polish remover) – 39% to 80% was retained
·         Ethanol (drinking alcohol, reed diffusers) – 20% to 76% was retained
·         Toluene (gasoline, many adhesives) – 61% to 74% was retained
As these compounds are breathed in and reach the deepest part of the lungs they can be transferred to the bloodstream.  Once the chemicals reach the bloodstream it is the same as if they were ingested by drinking (like alcohol), but in this case this “ingestion” is happening continuously while being exposed to the elevated VOC level. For people with chemical sensitivities, or children and pregnant women who can have twice the metabolic rate (chemical absorption will occur more quickly than in adults or non-pregnant women), chemical exposure can cause adverse health affects like headaches, confusion, respiratory issues, and/or general malaise.

So before you add another seemingly harmless household or personal care product to your home, think twice about how that product will be  “consumed” by the body and the potential health consequences of that consumption.

Want to find out what's in your home's air?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Children & Indoor Air Quality

Everyone seems to generally know and accept that our indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air… but unfortunately this general knowledge has yet to spur significant, proactive action on the part of homeowners.   We’re not in the habit of being alarmists, but when something is as serious and widespread as the effects of poor indoor air on children, we’re going to do everything in our power to get people thinking about the air they and their families breathe.

    Children and Indoor Air Quality
    Is your home's air safe and healthy for your children?
    On average, people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.
  • Sixty-five percent of that is spent at home.
  • Pollutant levels inside can be 2-5 times higher than outdoors; after some activities, pollutant levels can be 100 times higher.
  • Children breathe in 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults do.
  • Because of their developing systems, children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poor indoor air quality.
  • About 4.2 million children in the US are affected by asthma each year.
A recent study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). By controlling biological contaminants, asthma cases could be reduced by 55 to 60 percent.


One of the fundamental problems with something like poor indoor air quality is that it generally can’t be seen, smelled or tasted – so it’s easy to ignore.  It’s typically only thought about AFTER the negative health effects start appearing (i.e. your child is wheezing and coughing), and even then it’s viewed like a ‘hail mary pass’ when nothing else seems to improve the condition.

There’s no good reason for the avoidance.  Indoor air quality testing like the kind performed by Pro Energy Consultants is relatively inexpensive, non destructive, and will give you insights in mere days.  Once you know what the contaminants are and the sources, you know what to concentrate on fixing.  And most of the fixes are low or no cost.

And once you’ve improved your indoor air, you – and your children – can breathe easier.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Weekend Project: Improve The Air You Breathe

So many projects on that weekend to-do list, so little time.  How does one prioritize?  Hmmm…we want it to make an impact, not cost too much money, and hopefully leave us time for other fun stuff, right?
Nothing fits this description better than proactively improving your indoor air (you do know you spend 65% of your time at home, and that it’s as much as 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, don’t you?)  The impact is huge (avoid illnesses and long term health problems for you and your family), and the cost and time is minimal.

Quick & Easy Ways To Improve Your Indoor Air This Weekend
  1. If you have an attached garage, move gasoline containers and lawn equipment out of it.  These are sources of pollutants that are entering your home (you just don’t realize it).
  2. Change your furnace filter (25% of folks have NEVER done this).
  3. Clean your humidifier and/or dehumidifier (this can become part of the problem rather than a solution if not cleaned regularly).
  4. Clean your exhaust vans and kitchen exhausts (while commonly used daily, these guys almost NEVER get cleaned).
  5. Really put some thought into writing down a cleaning action plan, suitable to your home’s occupants.  Regular, thorough cleaning is an essential (but often forgotten) strategy for maintaining healthy indoor air.  Set frequencies for key tasks (such as vacuuming 3 times per week), then delegate those tasks out to family members or elicit the help of a professional cleaning company.
  6. Seal the holes/cracks in your ducts.  Think of ducts as the conduit for air to travel around your home.  Poor performing ducts will leak undesirable air (such as that in your attic space) to the primary living areas of your home (such as your child’s bedroom).
  7. Throw out those air fresheners and scented candles (have you actually read the ingredients list on those?).
  8. Seal that minor, annoying leak you’ve been avoiding because “it’s no big deal”.  Even the smallest water leakage will, under the right conditions, produce mold.
  9. Talk about the merits of getting a professional indoor air quality test done.
Ok, yes, #9 is self promotional.

But in all seriousness, it makes no sense to embark on further initiatives to improve your indoor air quality without knowing what your home’s specific issues are, and where they are located.  That’s like going into surgery before the diagnosis!

In good health,
The PEC Team

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Question: In Summer, will keeping the garage door up or down conserve energy?

Great question!  Many factors come into play with this....

If your garage is insulated, closing the door will help conserve energy, particularly if there is a bedroom located above the garage.  However, if the garage is not insulated and is facing South, the heat gain can be intense! Therefore, leaving the door open will allow for air flow through it, resulting in potentially lower ambient temperatures. 

 Another thing to consider is if you have a refrigerator or an HVAC system located in the garage. Refrigerators can overheat during the summer (specifically the motor and electronics), so allowing for air flow is always a good idea.  And don't forget to clean those coils! If the HVAC system is located in the garage, sealing and insulating the duct work must be done to reduce the communication with the main body of the home. Think of it this way: any holes in your duct work allow the unconditioned air of the garage gets sucked into the duct system and sent throughout your house. Insulating the duct work will make sure the warm or cool conditioned air will stay that way until it gets inside your home.

Remember to air seal all holes, gaps and openings that could potentially create pathways to the home! This could include garage door hardware, electrical, plumbing and duct penetrations. Another good idea is to make sure there is solid weather-stripping on any entry doors to the home.

Stay cool!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Trees: Making you healthy & saving you money!

I recently read a blog on the EPA website that was concerned about the future of trees, and they brought up an interesting point: why do views of the future show the world without vegetation? Even the author's favorite cartoon, The Jetsons, was void of greenery. While that may have had something to do with the time and lack of knowledge about the world, it is vital to realize that at least in today's world, plants have a very important place.

As we extend our Earth Day and Arbor Day campaign, let's take a look at what trees and other vegetation can do for your health, the environment, and even your pockets!
First, trees and other plants remove tons of CO2 and other pollutants from the air (literally), and replace it with the oxygen we need to live. Some amazing facts on this subject (provided by SaveATree):
  • One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces while driving 26,000 miles.
  • Over the course its life, a single tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide.
  • A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four!
Filtering polluted air means reduced irritants for those with allergies, and a healthier experience for the rest of us in general! There are even some studies that say hospital patients have shorter recovery times when they have views of plants and trees (Trees for Cities).
Trees in urban areas help promote walking (and therefore a healthier lifestyle), while also reducing the radiating heat that can generate from concrete and pavement during the summer and keeping your neighborhood cooler.

When it comes to your pockets, trees can make a surprising impact as well!
  • The shade and wind buffering provided by trees reduces annual heating and cooling costs by 2.1 billion dollars.
  • Well-maintained trees and shrubs can increase property value by up to 14%.
  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30%
  • A healthy tree can have a value of up to $10,000.
Making sure that trees are planted purposefully around your yard can have a huge effect on your property value and energy costs. Take a look at the Arbor Day Foundation's explanation of where to plant trees to save energy & money: even a bush planted to shade your A/C unit can impact your energy bill. If you live in a city or suburb, with limited space, you can plant a vine to grow on a trellis, and can shade your wall from summer heat!

I certainly don't consider myself a "treehugger," but these are compelling facts. Not to mention, when you're talking about my family's health or my wallet, you've got my ear. So, if you didn't plant a tree to celebrate this past Earth Day or Arbor Day, you should! Better yet, you can plant a tree right now for no cost, and the only work included is clicking your mouse ;)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Earth Day 2012: Your Home's Impact On The Environment

In honor of Earth Day, Pro Energy Consultants would like you to take a look at how our home activities specifically waste energy and learn some ideas on how to improve our energy use.

Most families worry about the cost of energy, getting upset because they have their heat on full-blast during the winter and cannot keep their home warm, which means they have to pay more money just to get through the winter. What they don’t realize is that they’re also doing damage to the environment! That extra energy being used is creating MORE greenhouse gases. The same goes for cooling your home in the summer.

In the U.S., 20% of greenhouse gas emissions come from home energy use (Encyclopedia of Earth).
Heating and cooling your home usually consumes the most energy, more than any appliance that you may have, but this can vary based on the climate you live in. After heating and cooling, other major categories of home energy use are lighting, refrigerators and other appliances, and electronics. The same principles apply here: it’s easy to measure energy by cost, and it is much more difficult to measure energy by the waste created.

We have several tips on how to save energy written in our whitepaper on this same topic, which you can read here. However, here are a few:
  •  Do not use duct tape to seal your ducts. Instead, use water-based mastic.
  • Use motion detector light switches so you don't have to remember to turn the lights off.
  • Use sealant or caulk to fill any leaks around window or door frames.
  • Buy Energy Star appliances
  • Use power strips that cut-off energy when electronics are in stand-by mode, ending "vampire draw" or using energy when an item is off.

Want to do something good for the environment right now?? Like us on Facebook, and we'll donate $1 to the Arbor Day Foundation and their efforts to plant trees in tornado-ravaged communities.